Essential oils sound like something you might put in your car, but they are actually a whole classification of health and wellness products derived from herbs, citrus fruits, flowers, and plants. People have used these concentrated extracts for centuries to enhance their quality of life, including mental health.
Each essential oil has a unique composition of chemicals that retains the smell, flavor, and healthy attributes of the original plant. The chemical composition of an essential oil varies within the same plant species, from plant to plant.
Synthetic and natural oils are used for their fragrance and other non-medicinal applications but are not considered essential. Essential oils are 100% therapeutic-grade, and that makes them the choice to use for health purposes. Here’s our guide to essential oils, how they’re made, their health benefits, and some frequently asked questions.
Essential Oil Extraction Processes
Oils must be separated from the plant before they can be used. The system used to do this depends on the oil’s intended purpose and what part of the plant holds the oils. Some oils are used in food products, others in diffusers or topical applications.
Distillation, expression, and solvent extraction are the three methods used most often to separate oils from plants. Here’s some detail on each approach:
This method requires the organic material to be placed in stainless steel stills while steam is pumped through. The steam pulls the oils from the plant and traps them in a vapor that turns back into liquid when it’s cool. The byproduct is highly aromatic water, also known as a hydrosol. Essential oils sit atop the water to be skimmed off. This leftover water is used for its aromatherapy benefits, but it’s not as potent.
This method is perfect for extracting oils from plants carrying lots of nutrients on the surface, like citrus. Lemon oil comes entirely from the skin of the fruit, for instance. This process is also called cold-pressing, because a large, spiked roller presses the fruit to release the oils into the holding container beneath. Citrus is the only one that requires this extraction method now, although it was once the only method. Many people still prefer it because it doesn’t require heat or chemicals.
Some oils must be extracted using a chemical solvent. Hexane, methanol, and ethanol are typical chemicals used to coax oils from plants and flowers, such as Jasmine, that do not work with steam distillation or extraction. The byproduct of chemical solvent extraction is called an absolute, so it’s not pure essential oil. They also contain some residue of the chemical that, although minute, causes many aromatherapists not to use them.
Steam distillation is the most commonly used method, except when producing citrus oils. There are several ways to enjoy the benefits to mental health that these oils impart once they are extracted.
Essential oils deliver their mental health benefits in many ways. Use a scent diffuser or topical ointment, or even ingest them if they are food grade. Here are the ways to use them:
Apply to the Skin
Fat-soluble oils absorb into the skin when mixed with a carrier oil such as apricot kernel oil. Mixing with a carrier oil dilutes the strength and helps protect sensitive skin from rashes or irritation. Carrier oils are expressed as essential oils based on your preferred smell, texture, or any allergies.
The simple act of smelling these powerful scents can help you feel better. Oil diffusers spray a fine mist of oils throughout the room. A few drops in a bowl of hot water make a good DIY facial as well as a perfect way to inhale the beneficial scents.
Essential oils can be produced as a food-grade product and used in supplements or added to teas and dishes. Lemon, fennel, and black pepper essential oils, for instance, are tasty additions to a meal. The FDA designates oils that are safe to eat as GRAS, or generally recognized as safe. They must be distilled without chemicals and remain 100% natural.
The best application method is the one that works for you. What’s most important is the oil you are using, especially if you’re looking to boost your mental wellness.
Essential Oils to Boost Mental Wellness
Some essential oils have more benefits to mental wellness than others. Here are the top three best essential oils to help manage anxiety, depression, and stress-related issues.
The floral scent of lavender is one of the most widely used of all essential oils. Its most well-known benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, as well as sedative effects.
Geranium oil is used in aromatherapy to help alleviate pain and insomnia. This plant’s long-lasting and bright-colored flowers are a gardener’s favorite and retain their powerful scent after distillation.
Aromatherapy enthusiasts use Bergamot to alleviate anxiety and stress. A 2013 study found that patients awaiting surgery experienced less stress when receiving Bergamot aromatherapy.
Essential oils are an excellent partner in your mental wellness routine. Using them daily is a simple and safe way to feel better and more focused.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many essential oils can improve mental wellness, but there is a lot to know about their expression methods, carrier oils, and application methods. Start with these common questions.
Are There Any Risks Associated With Essential Oils?
Make sure any essential oil you use is certified as pure and natural. There may be a risk if you are allergic. Some oils, like lavender and rosemary, can be dangerous for pregnant women.
Are Fragrance Oils the Same as Essential Oils?
Fragrance oils do not contain the beneficial properties that are in essential oils. They are synthetic oils that impart fragrance only.
Do Essential Oils Go Bad?
Keep essential oils in a cool, dry place to keep them fresh for as long as possible. Eighteen to 24 months is the average amount of time an essential oil stays fresh.
Essential oils are a wonderful partner in your health routine. Using them daily is a safe and easy way to feel like yourself again.
Holistic Help Is Available When You Need It
Essential oils have myriad benefits for the human body. Dr. Karen Threlkel is a naturopathic doctor in the greater D.C. area who provides a holistic approach to medicine that addresses both symptoms and underlying conditions.
Our team is experienced at finding natural solutions for many common ailments. Contact Dr. Threlkel to schedule a consultation for more information about a health topic or to learn more about natural remedies or treatments.